Using Back Lighting Creatively in Photography

Back lighting can be tricky to master, but when you think about it logically and decide what you want to use it for and what the possibilities are you can get some beautiful or moody effects using back lighting.


back-lit portrait – click to buy this image

Well when all the light is behind and therefore around the image (this is usually a very large area of the image) the camera will decide on the exposure taking all of this very bright light from the background into consideration. It will do its best to get everything exposed perfectly, but the chances are that this will be impossible for your camera. So what happens? We’ve all seen them – the background has some detail or is exposed reasonably well, but your subject in-front of the light is dark.

This can work really well for silhouettes.

However if you want detail in your subject you are going to have to:

Blow out the background (let it overexpose) some photographer love this effect.
try and overexpose your shot so that you get some detail in the face
try it with or without a lens hood as without will give you more flare (light fog) this is sometimes a lovely effect


Use flash – using flash set on ETTL (evaluative through the lens metering) will give you a good exposure on both background and subject – underexposing a touch can give you depth of colour in a background here.

So what can you achieve with back lighting?

Back lighting can enhance the finer details of an object (such as the tiny hairs on a stem or a bug) or a scenes more delicate features such as the dust particles or drops of rain.

As usual try out lots of thing and experiment, remember they don’t have to all turn out great just have a good time and enjoy the ones that do.

2 replies
  1. Larry
    Larry says:

    Have you used the gray card method and has that worked out for you. We have been working on that with my photography class I am taking and wondering how much time I should invest in mastering the technique.

    larry leventhal

  2. Heather Buckley
    Heather Buckley says:

    Hi Larry, no I use auto white balance, it’s good to know how to do that as if you are taking lots of pictures in flourencent light for example you can save time by setting in camera. Outside however I never have a problem with white balance.

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